In our four-part series on student internships, Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) members explore the benefits, pitfalls, best practices and methods for engaging the next generation of students to build a successful student internship program.
Matthew Stewart is an Entrepreneur's Organization (EO) member in Orange County, California, and former member of EO's Global Board. He's also the founder of College Works Painting, a company that pairs student painters with homeowners and offers a thriving internship program "with a serious undercoat of fun." We asked Matt to share his experiences with Generation Z. Here's what he had to say:
Meet Generation Z, a confidence-filled group that doesn't want to miss a thing; has the shortest attention span of any generation; and isn't quite as open as their predecessors―the Millennials―from whom they learned that not everything needs to be shared online.
If you try to treat those in Generation Z (born in the mid to late '90s, mostly to Generation X parents) like you treat Millennials (born in the early '80s to mid '90s, mostly to Baby Boomer parents), it will backfire on you. This generation is unique. And now they're starting to look for their first jobs as interns in your company.
Each year our company hires thousands of undergraduate student interns, helping them gain real-life business management experience. We've been working with students from three generations, including this exciting new generation, as they begin graduating from college. There are certainly differences among Generation Z that, when attended to, can lead to an amazing impact on your organization.
Here are three ways we've learned to create engaging internships for Gen Zers:
1. Provide an Autonomous Environment
Generation Zers have been nurtured and encouraged by parents who advocate independent thinking. This is a 180-degree turnaround from the Millennial generation, whose helicopter parents hovered over their child's every move.
To account for their new way of thinking, focus on creating an environment where you teach and allow for autonomous execution. At our company, we train in a variety of ways: classroom style, hands-on and job shadowing. But we've found that our most effective method of teaching is allowing interns to take action on their own and then come back to us for feedback.
The content of your training should also focus on more than just the intern's role at your company. Show them the bigger picture. Teach your interns about your company's history, the industry you operate in, and how you fit into the marketplace.
Knowing this information allows for autonomous thinking. Encourage and empower your interns to come to you with new ideas.
2. Cater to Shorter Attention Spans
Generation Z has grown up with smartphones, tablets, 3-D, 4-D and 360-degree photography. The average attention span of a Gen Zer is a mere eight seconds, compared to the relatively lengthier 12-second attention span of Millennials. Generation Z earns the distinction of having the shortest attention span of any generation, ever.
To address the lack of attention span, teach in shorter 50-minute bursts, utilize graphics and take advantage of tech-based interfaces.
At our company, we package the content of our training programs into several mediums that can be consumed on a smartphone, tablet or computer. Make your training materials easy to access so that your Gen Z interns can learn in their free time as well. Remember, this generation loves to work independently. Allow them to do so.
3. Utilize New Technology in Your Recruiting Methods
Systems for hiring Gen Z need to accommodate their tech perceptions, shorter attention spans, and desire to get ahead of their peers.
Work with technology to simplify the hiring process at your company. Instead of requiring tedious applications, utilize social media platforms that Gen Z uses on a daily basis. For example, McDonald's now accepts applications through SnapChat. Many fast food companies no longer require applications and will often conduct interviews on the spot when candidates come in to grab applications. That is the type of first impression the interns of today are expecting.
To accommodate this mindset in our organization, we utilize technology to conduct many of our first-round interviews online. We communicate through SnapChat and text on a regular basis. Our user interfaces are all mobile-based, and our training program is broken into short videos and hands-on experiences.
We proactively made these changes in our recruiting and onboarding systems to meet the demands of this passionate, hungry new generation as we welcome them into our workforce. Are your company's systems ready for the skills and fresh perspective that Generation Z will bring into the workforce?